The England Hockey League (EHL) starts with a buzz around the grounds this season following the English men’s and women’s sides results at the recent EuroHockey Nations Championships.
The league enters its second season in its current format this weekend, though in the Men’s Premier Division, at the request of the clubs, end of season play-offs have been introduced for the top five teams. They will compete for Euro Hockey League places and the title of Premier Division Champions, with the exact format and dates still to be confirmed. A similar format has been proposed in the Women’s Premier Division with the outcome to be announced shortly.
East Grinstead set out to defend their first Men’s Premier Division EHL title this season and do so first by travelling to Cannock. They have strengthened with the signing of Scotland and GB international Niall Stott to add firepower to their attack whilst also bringing in Gareth Carr from Old Georgians. Former player Ben Barnes has taken over the coaching reigns at Reading as they search to regain a winning formula for the 09-10 season. He becomes the first coach to follow in his father’s footsteps by coaching the same team (Andy Barnes coached Reading in the 90s) and pits his wits against Hampstead & Westminster this Sunday in a match that will see the European Cup on show at Sonning Lane. Beeston have picked up Carl Smith from Loughborough Students as they look to build on their third place finish last term, and Smith will return to his former side this weekend for his first Beeston game. Surbiton have masterminded a Spanish raid with Alejandro Iglesias and Alberto Vazquez joining from Club de Campo and their first test will be the longest journey of the season to Bowdon. Following Smith from Loughborough, Martin Scanlon and Robert Smith join Cannock as the Staffordshire side hope to sustain the early form they enjoyed last season. Cannock have also added penalty corner specialist Alex Penney from University of Birmingham. Hampstead & Westminster have bolstered their ranks by signing Nicklas Benecke (SC Frankfurt 1880), Jaime Gonzalez-Laguillo Garcia (another from Club de Campo), and Surbiton’s Andy Cornick, as well as welcoming back Todd Williams as coach. University of Exeter and Brooklands MU were promoted after strong campaigns in their respective Conferences last season. They remain under stable tutelage to embark on their campaign of survival. The two new-boys kick start their campaigns against each other in what promises to be a tense affair at Brooklands. Bowdon’s new coach this season, Amanda Partington – though involved in the coaching setup last season – becomes the first female head coach in the EHL Men’s Premier Division.
Bowdon Hightown travel to Clifton on Saturday to begin their defence of the Women’s Premier Division title. They retain the majority of their squad for this campaign, but see the departure of Jo Ellis to Reading. Ellis is joined by several of her England and GB teammates, including Kate Walsh and Alex Danson, at her new club, where Simon Letchford returns from a stint coaching in Germany to take charge. Reading face a stern test in Slough in their first game of the season; Slough see the return of Harriet Cunningham and Chloe Strong, along with new arrival Nicola White as they aim to challenge again at the top of the table. Clifton has secured the services of prodigy Charlotte Craddock whilst Leicester has recruited youth talent from Loughborough Students in the shape of Laura Unsworth and Maddie Hinch and they also welcome Rebecca Herbert back from Kampong in the Netherlands. Leicester host Canterbury who have steadily improved in previous seasons and will be hoping for a breakout season. Runaway Conference West champions last season, University of Birmingham, host Brooklands Poynton in a game which may indicate the coming fortunes for either side for the season. Olton & West Warwickshire had a breakout season in 08-09 finishing second and will be hoping to sustain their push for the title further this season; they host Trojans on Saturday.
The Conferences welcome newly promoted sides this season in the shape of Deeside Ramblers (Men’s North), Harleston Magpies (Men’s East), Fareham (Men’s West), Harborne (Men’s North), Plymouth Marjon (Men’s West), Northampton Saints (Women’s East), Sheffield Hallam (Women’s North), Team Bath Buccaneers (Women’s West), Buckingham (Women’s West), and Cambridge City (Women’s East).
Men’s Conference East side Canterbury have procured the services of former player and highly regarded Kwan Browne. They have appointed him as their player/coach in their push for promotion. South African international Leroy Phillips has joined Old Loughtonians from Havering, whilst Royce Waters has been named coach at Chelmsford after a spell with Ipswich Women. Southgate join the Conference East hoping to bounce straight back to the Premier Division after their relegation last season. Havant, in Men’s Conference West have seen a change in coach since their relegation, former Clifton coach Merijn van Willigen tasked with challenging for promotion back into the Premier. Their former coach Calum Giles has taken over at Plymouth Marjon on their return to the EHL after a short absence. With no side dropping down into the Men’s Conference North from the Premier Division this season, Belper, Durham University and Leek will all be hoping to clinch that coveted top spot and a place in the promotion play-offs.
Sutton Coldfield look like contenders for the Women’s Conference North and set out to challenge Durham University (who missed out on a place in the Premier Division in last season’s play-offs), Loughborough Students, and Belper who were all strong last season. Women’s Conference East looks a tough prospect with both Chelmsford and Ipswich vying for promotion after their relegation from the Premier Division. Old Loughtonians and Southgate are capable of challenging for the top spot. Seeking a promotion play-off place in Women’s Conference West will be Cannock, Barnes Hounslow Ealing and Exe, with Buckingham, runaway winners of the South Regional Premier Division, in with a chance of making an impact in their inaugural EHL season.
All told, the EHL 2009-10 season shows much promise, with competitive divisions set to produce enthralling encounters throughout the league to delight fans around the country.
Source: England Hockey
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